Sunday, November 28, 2010

Packers' Grades vs. the Falcons

The Packers may have lost another close game, but it shouldn’t be devastating.  They went on the road against the class of the NFC and lost by only three points as time expired.  Overall, they played well, but the final score came down to glaring mental mistakes.  The fumble by Aaron Rodgers at the goal line turned the tide of the game, and failing to challenge a fourth-down reception on the ensuing Falcon drive resulted in a fourteen-point swing.   The Packers needed to play error-free to win this game, but  between those mental mistakes and costly penalties, they couldn’t compete with the Falcons.

Brandon Jackson only got ten rushing attempts, and most of them were run out of single-back sets that had him switching directions and avoiding tacklers long before he got back to the line of scrimmage.  Dimitri Nance failed in his only goal line rush, but the offensive line must take their share of blame for not opening holes for both rushers.  Rodgers rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown, but his fumble was game-changing.

The Packers’ defensive front made a valiant effort, stuffing uber-back Michael Turner on numerous occasions.  But, in the end Turner was able to bounce big runs to the outside, gaining 110 yards on 23 carries, helping the Falcons to control the clock and keeping the Packer defense in the box.  On Turner’s touchdown, he walked into the end zone as both AJ Hawk and Nick Collins were cut out of the back side of the play by one blocker.

Rodgers and his receivers were on target much of the day.  Finding comfort from the Falcons’ rush with quick throws (and a previously unseen no-huddle offense), Rodgers took only one sack while using the short-passing game as a running game.  Brett Swain made a couple of key runs after the catch, and Jordy Nelson had a beautiful sideline catch near the endzone, then the touchdown reception that tied the game up with less than a minute to play.  The Packers were only 3-for-11 on third downs, though.

Matt Ryan didn’t have to do much today but make safe, conservative throws, and combined with Michael Turner’s effective ground game, it was more than enough to keep the Packers off-balance.  Ryan was able to avoid the rush by moving outside the pocket and waited for shorter passes to Jason Snelling and Tony Gonzalez to develop.  While the Packers did get two sacks on the day, linebacker Clay Matthews was noticeably quiet.

The Packers’ lackluster special teams play returned after playing quite well for several weeks.  Most glaring were five special-teams penalties that resulted in 61 yards difference in field position.  As a result, the Packers’ average drive started on their own 17-yard line, while the Falcons started on their own 30.  Most critical was Matt Wilhelm’s face mask on the Falcon’s final kick return, with the game tied and under a minute to play.  While the face mask may have prevented a touchdown, it was a major fail for a kick coverage team that shouldn’t be giving up such a play at a critical juncture in the game.

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